Daisy is learning to lead others

By Joseph Slacian

Daisy ambles across the waiting room of Midwest Eye Consultants. An ornament on the office Christmas tree catches her attention and she stops and stares at it.

Her handler, Dr. Lindsey Culver, is next to her, making sure puppy curiosity doesn’t get the best of Daisy, or the tree.

Dr. Culver and her family are raising Daisy, a Black Lab, to one day be a leader dog. They are working with Leader Dogs for the Blind, a group that, according to its mission statement, seeks to empower “people who are blind or visually impaired with lifelong skills for safe and independent daily travel.”

“I first heard of the organization after Midwest Eye made this our company wide cause,” she said. “The more I learned, the more I loved the idea; it really stuck with me.

“I thought this is something I could do, and something that my family could do together. It’s awesome that Leader Dogs for the Blind can provide these amazing animals to their clients at no charge. They even provide for their travel to the campus and training. This makes sure anyone who needs the service animal will get one without any financial troubles.”

Before making the commitment, Dr. Culver did research through the Leader Dog website. Next came a quiz and an application. After it was approved, she was provided with the name of a puppy counselor.

“This is someone I can contact with any questions or issues that come up over the next year,” she explained. “We also get together once a month with other puppy raisers. The counselor organizes this at various public places.”

One meeting site, she noted, was at Glenbrook Mall in Fort Wayne. A future site will be a restaurant.

Because Daisy is a Leader Dog in training, she doesn’t yet have the rights to enter public places granted to service dogs.

“Planning ahead and asking permission before she is with me has been the most difficult,” Dr. Culver said. “Some places around town have been so accepting already and given us permission. Others have declined, which is their right. I’m hoping to raise awareness so more places will allow Daisy to enter. Socialization is such an important part of her training.

“We like to take her out as often as we can. We’ve already taken her out several places. This is so important to her success.”

The Culvers will raise Daisy for about one year, returning her to the Leader Dog organization when she is 14 months old.

After that, she will spend four to six months at the group’s campus for more intense training. She will then be placed with a client, and they will then spend time at the campus training together before she is allowed to go home with them.

There are currently 89 guide dog clients from Leader Dog in Indiana, the second highest number in the nation for a state.

After all the training, Dr. Culver noted, Daisy isn’t guaranteed to become a Leader Dog for the Blind.

“(Daisy) could end up career changed into something else,” she said. “She could be chosen to be a service animal in another area, bred for future Leader Dog puppies, or may not be chosen for anything.

“If she isn’t chosen for something else, we would have the option to keep her. As much as we lover her already, we hope this doesn’t happen. We want her to be successful.”

As with any puppy, the Culvers are developing a routine for Daisy.

“Besides the normal feeding and taking the puppy outside, we do several short training sessions throughout the day,” Dr. Culver said “These are typically five minutes or less each. This is when we do some of the different training exercise listed in the Manuel. We keep them short so it’s not overwhelming to Daisy and sets her up for success.”

Dr. Culver’s husband, Nathan, and daughters Hadley and Beckett have taken to Daisy quickly, especially the two girls.

“They love to get her meals ready, help with training and help take her out for walks,” she said.

But, children will be children, and the two girls and the puppy at times get over excited.

“When Daisy gets too playful and rambunctious, or my girls do, I have them take a break from each other. Some of that is that she’s just a puppy right now and will become calmer with age.”

Nathan also has been a big help with Daisy.

“I knew if he wasn’t on board, there was no way this was going to work,” Dr. Culver said. “He does just as much, if not more, than any of us.”

The girls even helped with naming the puppy.

“We ran through a lot of princess names first, but settled on Daisy, like Daisy Duck,” Dr. Culver said.

The family knows that later this year, Daisy will be leaving the family and that, she said, was her husband’s biggest reservation into the matter.

“He knows that there’s going to an attachment there,” she said. “I know it’s going to be hard because she’s going to be part of our family for a year. But I made that really clear to my daughters, that this is a project that we’re doing for somebody else.”

And her husband added a little something special for the girls to possibly make that separation a little more bearable.

“Nathan told them maybe if they do a good job that they can get a puppy that maybe they can keep,” she said. “So, I think that’s helping them along. I think that was a group effort there, so now they’re working on me.”

When Daisy is returned to the Leader Dogs for the Blind, the family can visit her with the client with whom she is placed.

And, Dr. Culver added, once Daisy is 9 or 10 months old, the family can apply to get another puppy. However, she said, the family is waiting before making that decision to see how this venture goes.

Midwest Eye has been a partner with Leader Dogs for the Blind since 2017.

“We have noticed recently we are getting more applications from Indiana and it rises every year,” according to Patrick Blake, corporate relations manager for Leader Dogs for the Blind. “We believe it has everything to do with our partnership with Midwest Eye.”


Posted on 2020 Jan 21